Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How Do You Do It?

By Rachael Dirzuweit

In 2011, a movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker titled “I Don’t Know How She Does It” came to theaters. I was so excited to see it after I saw one of the posters. It featured Parker, dressed like businesswoman, holding a teddy bear and briefcase, and the background was a to do list. I wasn’t excited to see the movie because I enjoyed the acting of anyone starring in the feature, or because it was supposed to be a comedy—I was seeking an explanation. I wanted to know how to answer people when they asked me how I balance what’s on my plate.
You see, I’m a law school student. I’ve been a student, if you count my undergraduate education, for seven of the last nine years. I have a nine-year-old son, and have been employed since I was 15. I was a single mom for the first three of those years, as well. When I decided to go to law school in September of 2008, we moved back in with my parents and siblings because of the reduced income. Nobody in my family has the type-A personality I do. In seeking perfection, instead of cooking and cleaning and caring for my family of three, I had to do it for a family of nine.

And I do it still. I work a part time job, I volunteer at my son’s school, I cook and clean for nine people, I do well in law school, and (most of the time) I do it all with a smile on my face. I know why I do these things (because if I don’t, nobody else will), but I don’t know how I do these things. So when I’m asked, I usually just smile and say “It’s not that bad.”

BUT IT IS. It’s horrible. It’s more work than one human being should have to perform in a week, and I’m doing it in a day. I was conditioned as a single mother working full time and going to college full time to function on little sleep. But that’s not the kind of answer people want to hear. I’m not sure what they want to hear, but “I don’t sleep anymore” is not it. Trust me.

So when this movie came out, I thought “Here’s my chance! Maybe they’ll explain this in a way people can understand!” Needless to say, I was disappointed. Parker was a working mother with a stay-at-home husband who felt the regular pressures that having children and working at the same time brings. But I saw her life as somewhat of a vacation when compared to mine.

She had a small family to take care of, not nearly as large as mine. Her husband, while loving and supportive, is unemployed when the movie begins. When she gets a promotion at work that requires more travel, he gets a job offer he can’t turn down. “Here’s where it will get good,” I thought. But her life unravels, and she moves to the country with her husband and quits her job. And they never showed how she did it. “REALLY, SHE GIVES UP?!” I thought. This made me stop and think more about how I do it (without giving up). There has to be an answer—I’m that kind of person. Every question has an answer.

I may be the most organized person in the world. I know where everything in my house is at all times, mainly due to a photographic memory that helps me remember where I put things. I make lists before I make lists. And in fact, despite having a to-do list in the movie poster, no actual to-do list made it into Parker's portrayal of doing it all.

Give me a break!

Once a month I make a monthly dinner menu and shopping list that is broken down into weekly trips based on the menu. We don’t always stick to the menu, but when I get the inevitable “What’s for dinner?” and nobody knows what they want, I can look on the fridge and see what it’s going to be. When I’m cleaning the house, I write down everything I want to do in a room. I plan down to the minute, I write my daily to do list the night before.

I always lay clothes out the night before, have lunches packed and have everything in its place for the morning. I am NOT a morning person. The insane organization quirk I have developed helps with that. Knowing where everything is equals no yelling in the morning. My smartphone with its Post-It app and personal assistant crucially forces me to take notes and update my calendar. Laundry day is Tuesday and Friday. ALWAYS. When I worked weekends, I did homework during the week. Now I work during the week, so my weekends are for homework (mostly). I organize what I need to do based on when it is due, and I go through it that way.

I don’t sacrifice fun or spontaneity because of the lists and the schedule. Sometimes something less important is bumped to make room for other, better things. This weekend we went shopping. All day. There was plenty on the list for Saturday, but I moved it to Sunday’s list.

It feels great to check things off these lists. Sometimes I write things I’ve already done on the lists just to have the satisfaction of crossing them off. These were all things I started noticing after I sought to answer the question of how to do it all, when the movie didn’t provide the answer.

Well, it looks like maybe that movie showed me how to answer the question, after all.


  1. you are an amazing woman..... I have the privilege of seeing you put in work and maintain that smile. Everyone is not built the way you are but believe that all your hardwork is definitely paying off!!!

  2. Lauren BrockmeyerMarch 13, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    Your question is one asked by many women because for some reason in this society women are always burdened with maintaining their home regardless of our career aspirations. This is why a lot of senior level women have to hire nannies and help because most of us cannot manage such a schedule. You truly to apitomize what I think many of us wish they could accomplish in one day.

  3. If you ask me to cook and clean for a family of 9, I'd have a nervous breakdown. Law school doesn't make things easy, but you make it look that way! And no one can teach you to be a hard worker, good thing it comes naturally for you. Keep it up!

  4. Rachael, I have trouble getting my own clothes and lunch ready in the morning. But I do remember my child-rearing days. The amount of organization needed is daunting. Thanks for a fine piece.